In an up and down season, the Rangers have looked like both the championship contender many believed they would be and a team incapable of getting the job done. It all depends on when you tune in. Nonetheless, with the talent and experience on the blueshirts roster, it is impossible to count them out of the picture for top team in the Eastern Conference. Though the ultimate prize is the Stanley Cup, around the halfway point most fans and organizations start looking at the conference in hopes they can envision a path to playing the Blackhawks, I mean Western Conference representative.
With the Rangers, the question may not be whether they are good enough to win the east but rather, who is good enough to beat them out. A quick rundown of the other teams in the east shows that the Rangers sit as one of the main contenders and should thank whatever higher power they choose that they aren’t in the Central Division. Here is a look at some of the Rangers competitors for the Prince of Wales Trophy:
- Washington Capitals: It is impossible to shy away from the fact that this is the hottest team in the league. The Capitals look dangerous. That being said if you ask Rangers fans if they are capable of fearing Holtby, Ovechkin or any Caps team during playoff time they will probably chuckle. That is because New York (Henrik Lundqvist) has Washington’s number when it matters most. Until the Caps dethrone the three series, and three game-seven, win streak of the Rangers the momentum and mental edge will soothe any worry.
- New York Islanders: The Islanders are a good story. They have built around Tavares and become a legitimate playoff threat. However, in that time they have not been able to find a top tier netminder and in the playoffs that is too important to ignore. Not only will the Rangers not fear a team with Halak in net, not many contenders will.
- Pittsburgh Penguins: This one is pretty straightforward. They have looked shockingly inconsistent, signed a perennially disappointing goaltender to a long-term deal and despite being criticized for their top-heavy roster only exacerbated that problem with the Phil Kessel signing this offseason.
- Florida Panthers: The Panthers are a great story but often the first playoff run for a young team is a learning experience. It will be fun to watch playoff hockey in South Florida but it is tough to imagine they can go the distance in a seven game series against veteran teams like the Rangers or others on this list.
- Tampa Bay Lightning: Tampa Bay caught lightning in a bottle last season when they made their own finals run but this year has seen a lot of turmoil, from Jonathan Drouin trade talks to Steven Stamkos contract worries. Most importantly, a regression to the mean from the mid-level scorers like the “triplets,” has made the Lightning look beatable.
- Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings are in the playoffs as of the All-Star Break and all is right in the world. That being said advanced stats are not to kind to the motor city squad and neither are not so advanced stats like a -2 goal differential.
- Boston Bruins: It would be a huge mistake for any team to underestimate Boston. Organizationally they have a strong winning culture and a lot of playoff experience on their roster will come in handy. That being said the core of the Bruins may just be too experienced. Age and miles on their legs may catch up with them late in the playoffs when overtime is continuous and the pace and physicality are increased.
- Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price could be the most fear inducing player in the east for the Rangers. That being said, since Price went down a lot of weaknesses have come to light for the Habs.
At the All-Star break the Rangers are in the playoff picture. They may not have played perfect hockey thus far, but neither has the rest of the east. As the playoffs edge closer the Rangers will have to find a way to play more consistently in order to get through the beatable Eastern Conference.
My name is Jason Bisnoff and I am a native New Yorker and currently work for the International New York Times. I have been published in the New York Daily News, Albany Times-Union, Metroland, The Nabe, Florence Magazine, 219 Magazine and previously did hockey writing for Hockey This Week.